Like many talented amateur golfers, Larry Schneider wondered what it would be like to turn professional. Like few others, Schneider now has firsthand experience.
In 1985, Schneider, of Anaheim Hills, gave up his job in the consumer loan department of a bank in Orange County to become a club professional. Some friends thought him unwise to leave a lucrative industry in his early 40s to start near the bottom of another business, but Schneider hasn't looked back.
"You take a bath for a while because you just don't make that much," Schneider said, "but there is one thing about this profession: There is no day that I wake up and say I don't want to go to work."
And there's another thing: Become a good enough player and your earning potential goes through the roof after you turn 50.
This week, Schneider will get a chance to test that truism at the U.S. Senior Open at Olympia Fields Country Club in Lemont, Ill. Not that he expects to challenge for the $232,500 winners' share of the $1.3-million purse, but he's eager to see how his game stacks up against the best.
He's also wondering how well his back--"It's in such bad shape that I'm a regular patient of a chiropractor," he said--holds up.
"I'm looking at this week as a real good test case," Schneider said. "I'm going to play a minimum of two practice rounds and hopefully all four rounds during the tournament. If I come out of that and I'm not in traction, that's going to give me the realization that the Senior Tour is a possibility."
And if the longshot doesn't pay off, Schneider has a nice fall-back position: his current job as an assistant professional at Anaheim Hills Golf Club. "I'd love to do it," he said, "but I also love what I'm doing now."
Schneider, 54, got to this point by tying for medalist honors June 16 at sectional qualifying at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga. He and Cliff Moore of Apple Valley shot par 72 to take the two available spots in the Open.
It was his third attempt to qualify in four years of eligibility.
"I'm more than enthused about the whole process," he said. "Whatever happens happens, but all the guys around here know I'm a scratcher and a clawer. If there is any way to make a birdie or par out there I'm going to find a way to do it."
Schneider also would like to find a way to meet Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. "I'm so excited even having the possibility of meeting some of the guys who are my heroes," he said. "Just to shake hands with them out there. I don't even know how to describe it. It's going to be wonderful."
But he also would like to shake hands with some of the lesser-known players. "I'd like to talk to some of the blue-collar pros that have been out there for a while. I'd like to walk up to Walt Zembriski and say, 'You are my kind of guy. They didn't really want you out here but you battled and made it anyway.' "
Details: The Senior Open begins Thursday. Dave Stockton is the defending champion. ESPN will air four hours of coverage on each of the first two days and NBC will take over on Saturday and Sunday.
Among the record 2,918 who tried to qualify for the 1997 championship was former vice president Dan Quayle. Quayle didn't make the field.
Gary Dennis, 59, of Laguna Niguel, won the Long Beach Senior Amateur Golf Championship, shooting nine-under-par 207 in three rounds at Long Beach Recreation Park this month. Bill Cunerty, golf and football coach at Saddleback College, finished five strokes back in second place. . . . David Greatbanks of Anaheim Hills shot five-over 145 at Meadowlark Golf Course to win the Simple Green Senior Amateur Championship last week. . . . Jim Quigley, a member at Hacienda Golf Club and a Placentia resident, won a pickup truck with a hole in one on the 187-yard fourth hole at Alta Vista Country Club during the club's member-guest tournament. . . . The George Yardley Newport Harbor High School Golf Classic is June 30 at Newport Beach Golf Course. The fee is $100 and includes on-course barbecue and awards dinner. Proceeds benefit the Newport Harbor golf program. For more information: (714) 856-2200.
The Orange County Golf Notebook runs every other week during the summer. Suggestions are welcome. Call (714) 966-5904, fax 966-5663 or e-mail Martin.Beck@latimes.com or Steve.Kresal@latimes.com
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Here's a look at the features that make one golf hole in Orange County stand out:
Course: Oak Creek Golf Club, One Golf Course Drive, Irvine (714) 653-7300
Hole: No. 15
Length: 506 (forward tee) and 541 (championship).
Description: This par five is the signature hole on the Tom Fazio-designed course. Players typically have some wind at their backs but it's wise not to go for it in two unless you have a perfect lie. Much of the fairway slopes to the right toward Lowell's Creek, which twists down the right side and also protects part of the green.
Pro's Advice: The course's head PGA professional Perry Hallmeyer said he used to try to reach the green in two but got tired of fishing his ball out of the creek. "Fifteen is the most deserving hole," Hallmeyer said. "It takes the most thinking from tee to green because of the slope of the fairway."